Tourists regain access to Grand Canyon Skywalk

Posted: Updated:
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Tourists who were denied access on the main road to the Grand Canyon Skywalk for about a week now have a way to get to the glass bridge, be it through a bypass route or a rancher's checkpoint.

The Hualapai Tribe, which operates the Skywalk, received a federal permit to create a three-quarter-mile dirt route that will run adjacent to Nigel Turner's property. Tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak said traffic was moving along the roadway by Tuesday afternoon.

The temporary right of way issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management separates traffic from heavy equipment being used to pave a 9-mile stretch of Diamond Bar Road. It also allows tourists to avoid a fee Turner had imposed to drive through his property, and guests at Turner's western style ranch to be less impacted by the construction.

Turner closed off the road to all traffic last week following his arrest for allegedly threatening construction workers. He reopened it Tuesday, saying it's unnecessary to direct tourists onto a bypass route that will harm the landscape and vegetation. He has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor counts of threatening and intimidating.

Turner also has lowered the fee he started charging tourists at a checkpoint last month to continue on the road from $20 per person to $5 per car. Diamond Bar Road crosses about a mile of his land near Meadview before ending at Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai reservation.

"There's no need to keep damaging more land, killing more ancient Joshua trees that can't be brought back," he said Tuesday.

The bypass route eventually will be paved and become part of Diamond Bar Road, with the project to be complete by next spring. Drivers now hit a fork in the road and can head one direction to Turner's ranch and the other to the dirt bypass road.

Cieslak said thousands of tourists' vacation plans were forced to be changed because the road was closed. He said they now can use the bypass without fear of being stopped at a checkpoint by security guards that Turner had hired.

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick appealed to the BLM last week to expedite a permit application for the planned bypass to Hualapai lands.

"This problem was escalating and needed a swift resolution, so I'm pleased that BLM responded quickly to our request," Kirkpatrick wrote in a statement Tuesday. "The Grand Canyon is an environmental treasure and an economic driver, so we must ensure it is accessible and protected."

The tribe and Turner have been at odds over the paving project, with Turner reopening a lawsuit he filed against the federal government. Turner wants to review construction plans and ensure they include fencing, cattle guards and entrances to his property.

The federal government said he isn't entitled to review them and has chosen the wrong venue to bring up his concerns since the lawsuit he settled in 2007 that cleared the way for construction within four years was dismissed with prejudice.

A hearing is scheduled Thursday on the federal government's motion to dismiss the case. The judge could also take up Turner's request to temporarily halt construction.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.